Tuesday, February 22, 2005 

The Emperor Has No Clothes...

...And Can't Figure Out a Way to Buy New Ones

Almost one year has passed since King Karamanlis has taken over the throne of Greece. (Of course, the monarchy has been abolished here since the new Greek Constitution but since his uncle was a former PM of Greece, the leader of the opposition's father was a former PM of Greece and the mayor of Athens father was a former PM of Greece, I'd say the Royal Family is alive and kicking in Greece with just the title of "King" removed.) And to mark the occasion of his one year anniversary in power, I'd like to give a brief rundown on some of the more noteworthy events since he's been in power and how he's handled them.

Olympic Games
They certainly looked good, didn't they? But what did you expect when you spend 10 billion euros in a country where its total imports revenue is half that amount? The Games brought Athens to the centre stage and the budget that literally broke the bank brought Greece to its knees. Sure, we are the proud owners of a shiny new 600 million euro tram. I still have yet to figure out who actually uses it since it's almost always empty no matter what time of day I see it crawling along the tracks. We also got a lot of fancy new stadiums which they assured us would bring money into the country but so far it looks like they're going to cost us 85 million euros a year just to maintain...used or not. Gianna's Aggelopoulou-Daskalaki (president of the Olympics Organizing Committee) is nowhere to be seen on the political landscape and barely a peep has been heard from Karamanlis on the matter other than to say it's all his predecessor's (PASOK) fault and he's working on it.

National Deficit
According the EU Growth & Stability Pact, no member nation is allowed to have a deficit exceeding 3% of its GDP. Until now that is. Throughout all of last year, New Democracy had placed the deficit at 3.9% but with further investigations into accounting procedures, they had finally stopped at 5.3%. Latest calculations have put this figure at 6.2%...over double the absolute maximum. When the Greek Finance Minister went to Brussels to calm Ecofin and let them know Greece expected to have it under 3% by the end of 2005, they practically laughed him out of Belgium. They've given Greece until 2006 to get it under control. Karamanlis' solution is to basically mint money out of thin air to pay it off since his only financial plan has been to declare a 'mild adjustment'. With such a whopping deficit and EU funds almost dried up, I'd say drastic adjustment is the remedy not vague promises.

Judicial Scandals
In the past month, so many judges have been charged for trial fixing, bribery and corruption that I can't keep track of it all. So much for the statement, "Greek citizens - and foreigners living in Greece - feel much safer in the hands of Greek justice than they ever did before" which was published less than two months ago in the Athens News. If you ask any Greek citizen today whether they trust the judiciary, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone to say 'yes'. I still have yet to hear Karamanlis take a stand and get personally involved in ridding this once honoured institution of its insidious corruption virus.

Church Scandals
In the past month, lurid details of sex trafficking, drug dealing, fraud, embezzlement by priests within the Orthodox church have been the main course of all newspapers and tv news segments (www.athensnews.gr, www.ekathimerini.com, www.ert.gr). Karamanlis has stated that he'll let the Church take care of its own internal problems and that the state need not be involved. Since the State and the Church are intertwined, with the Greek Constitution guaranteeing the Greek Orthodox Church the monopoly on religion, Karamanlis is involved whether he likes it or not. Members of the opposition as well as the majority of Greeks, including myself, are calling for the separation of Church and State. It's time for the elected prime minister to listen to the people and grasp the opportunity to extricate the State from the clutches of the scandal-ridden clergy. "No man is able to be a servant to two masters: for he will have hate for the one and love for the other, or he will keep to one and have no respect for the other. You may not be servants of God and of wealth." (Matthew 6:24) It's time for the Church to practice what it preaches.

So far, not so good.

A host of other problems has plagued Greece for years, such as immigration, police corruption, pension reform, education, and unemployment. These problems have been pushed to the back burner now that bigger ones have taken the spotlight.

The economy is a mess no matter how anyone tries to spin it. The judiciary has imploded and the Church in which everyone used to find solace, has had its reversible cloak of secrecy and infallibility exposed. To be fair, Karamanlis has inherited a lot of problems fromPASOK but that doesn't excuse him for his lack of prompt action in the most grave issues choking this nation's potential. Pre-election campaigns showed us a leader who had all the answers. Now he's being put to the test and he can't keep blaming PASOK for this current spate of scandals. 2005 will be the decisive year to test Karamanlis' leadership. The Emperor needs to fire his sycophantic tailors and employ some competent ones to put some clothes back on this naked, indecisive man that is Karamanlis and this naked, destitute man that is Greece.

Saturday, February 19, 2005 

Starbucks Democracy

Coming Soon to a Nation Near You!

Americans are the Franchise Kings. You’ll find a Starbucks or a McDonald’s in just about every town, in every country around the globe. They don’t have to have the best coffees or hamburgers but it doesn’t matter. An idea, a lot of money and top notch marketers are all that’s needed to make the flagship store a global moneymaker.

The same can be said of American style democracy.


Franchising is a great way for an inexperienced business person to jumpstart a business without having to come up with a new idea, do the work to support it and find the distributors and product lines. The franchisor will do all that to him for a fee. The Franchisee gets to own a profitable business and his only obligations are to implement the Franchisor’s marketing and promotional ideas, buy products from the Franchisor and pay a percentage of his profits to the Franchisor.

The Idea
The money men of American politics (who shall be referred to hereafter as “The Franchisor”) are the guys with the idea…an elected government by the people, for the people and of the people. The nation who buys into the American Democracy enterprise will be referred to as the Franchisee.

The Business Plan
The business plan is rather simple: fellow citizens will vote for the candidate with the slickest marketing campaign and the best soundbites. The Franchisor gets to pick two candidates to ‘sell’ to the public and the public which keeps the risk of having a real leader getting elected at an absolute minimum. With the best image consultants, PR personnel and media sycophants, the candidate’s every word, gesture and action is scripted so he/she appears to be the only choice to the public. It has been proven that the voting public are easily swayed by these tactics that they don’t even realize that their votes are nothing more than symbolic in nature. The candidate elected will always be the Franchisor’s choice and not the public’s. Nothing short of a popular revolt could ever change this. Since the voting public seems to only want to revolt over sport’s scores, the dangers of this happening are almost nil.

The Training Program
Once the Franchisee has signed the contract with the Franchisor, a training program is implemented. The Franchisor will set up subsidiary banks, corporations and military bases within the Franchisee’s nation. A team of advisor’s will be installed in the new American Democracy government to ensure the required franchise and licencing fees are paid back to the Franchisor and to assist the Franchisee in choosing candidates, financing elections and promoting the winning candidate throught the duration of his/her reign in power.

The Benefits
The convenience of American style Democracy is difficult for most consumers to resist. Even if it’s not the best in the world, at least it looks pretty and doesn’t require a lot of time and wars to find better suited candidates. The Franchise nation is happy because they have the support of the Franchisor’s products and promotions to make even more profits on the backs of unsuspecting citizens. They become part of a globally recognized name brand chain offering globally recognized products. Who wouldn’t love the idea of millions of tax paying people happily depositing their paycheques at Citibank after a hard day’s work at Nike or General Motors factories?

(This blog also appears on the site www.chaosacrossamerica.com)

Saturday, February 12, 2005 

Viewing Democracy Through Opaque Glasses

"What we need is to bring back the military junta. There was no crime then, everyone was safe and we all had jobs."

I heard that comment again from one of our Greek clients. I'd like to say that his view is an isolated one but amazingly enough, he's one of many people from whom I've heard the same sentiment over the years. Many Greeks share the same view although they don't outrightly express support for the junta. Usually, they tone it down a bit ... along the lines of "the junta wasn't all that bad..." and then they will provide you with a shopping list of all that was 'right' with the junta...from safer streets, more jobs and better infrastructure.

"Is this just an opinion shared only by Greeks?", I questioned myself. No, it wasn't as I've heard the same comments from Poles, Ukrainians and Russians over the years as well regarding the communist regime. They would tell me of a time when people had money, had jobs and life was better then than it is now. They feel that the collapse of communism was the beginning of a societal and economic downward spiral.

Being a Canadian and only ever having lived in the USA and Canada, and never having had anything but a democratic modern background, I'd never even given credence to the belief that there might be anything worthwhile other than democracy and that to say otherwise is tantamount to sacrilege. I naively believed that 100% of the global population would naturally WANT a democratic society. To think otherwise would be looking at life not through rose-coloured glasses but opaque ones.

If I had only heard support for a non-democratic society once, I'd dismiss it as an aberration of thought. To hear it continually over several years from people of different countries, I started to give it some consideration.

What makes people believe that communism or dictatorship is better than democracy?
The people I talked to told me all had the same answers: everyone had a job, crime was lower and for the most part, their quality of life was better. These views weren't expressed just by uneducated people either...all of them held had finished high school and most of them were university educated. So the support for a non-democratic lifestyle wasn't because of ignorance or was it?

Querying them further, I realized that they all shared another commonality...they had all been raised during or in the immediate aftermath of communism or dictatorship. Most Greeks grew up on junta-written educational curriculum. The communist-raised people had been indoctrinated with the communist idealogy so it stands to reason that it would take a lot more than 15 years from the demise of communism to undo a lifetime of such brainwashing...devoid of alternate opinions and ideas.

When free press doesn't exist, there are only 'approved' reading materials and your only source of information comes from the government, freedom of thought is punished, then it only stands to reason that such governments DO appear to a good alternative to democracy.

If the government tells you there is no crime and in the absence of media freedom, you believe it.

If the government builds your homes for you and you all pay the same rent for them, but no one tells you what effect that has on your economy, you live in ignorance.

When you are guaranteed a job regardless of your qualifications, education or performance and now you actually have to prove your worth in a capitalist, democractic society. Of course, it's more difficult.

When everyone has a post-secondary education and the higher educational facilities lower admission standards, in effect, your 'degree' becomes a worthless piece of paper anywhere else.

When you are told that a high school dropout who collects garbage for a living is worth of the same salary as a brain surgeon, and you believe that, then you are lying to yourself. Human desire for higher achievement is subsequently rendered obsolete.

It is my belief that these people have a softer view of non-democratic governments because they never had the choice of living or learning about any other way of life. Life IS easier when you don't have to actually work hard to get it.

Democracy isn't flawless. We can still be misled by government propaganda but at least we have opportunity to live with it, the freedom to question it, and the ability to reform it.

As usual, Winston Churchill summarized it better..."It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Saturday, February 05, 2005 

Sinners and Saints

Several years ago, while vacationing on the Greek island of Cephalonia, I was reading a brief history of the island and I was amazed to find out that this little island with a population of less than 30,000 people was home to 5 of its very own saints. By contrast, Canada, with a population of about 31,000,000, to my knowledge, doesn't have any.

This realization resulted in many questions for me. Could it be because Canada is a relatively young country? Could it be because Canadians aren't that saintly? Could it be because you need to be baptised Catholic or Eastern Orthodox in order to be considered for sainthood? If that's so, does this mean that only devotees of these religions are worthy to become saints?

My personal opinion on the matter was that Churches use sainthood as a means to increase membership and keep their faithful followers faithful to them. By canonizing a person, they can accomplish this. Because the Catholic Holy See and the Orthodox Synod can't be everywhere at once to make sure people show up at church every Sunday and to keep the collection plates full, they need to reward them not only for attendance and monetary generosity, they need to give them a good reason to lead a 'worthy' life. When they make a saint out of an ordinary person, it sets an example to others in the community that extreme devotion to the Church is not only recognized but rewarded in such a way that no secular occupation could ever compete with...you can have your own icon and have millions of people pray to YOU for centuries to come. What other secular job can offer you that kind of reward? Not even Elvis comes close to that kind of worship and devotion.

With the latest scandals of the Catholic church, attendance has dropped sharply especially in North America. Faith in the Catholic Church itself has been damaged seemingly irrevocably. The time when only Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism ruled the planet seems to be over. In the past 500 years, so many new religions have sprouted up, you'd think the Church would be having a harder time to find new people to canonize amongst its declining membership. But apparently this isn't so. Pope John Paul II has been a very busy man. "From the establishment of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1588 until the election of John Paul II, there were 296 saints canonized and 808 declared blessed. The present Pope has canonized 459 saints and proclaimed 1,274 blessed during his pontificate. " (http://www.opusdei.org/art.php?w=32&p=3943)

In 390 years, almost 300 saints and 800 blessed. But John Paul II has been able to find 460 more saints and a whopping 1,274 to bless in just 27 years? The Church says that's because the lengthy procedural process for canonization has been shortened. Or could it just be because the Church is desperately trying to fill its pews again to counter the mass exodus of the past 30 years?

Even after many hours researching religions, saints, the canonization process and the history of saints themselves, I still don't have any conclusive answers to my original questions but I still haven't found anything convincing enough to prove that I'm wrong in thinking that Sainthood is a religious marketing ploy either.

Maybe we just give too much attention to the whole idea of sainthood anyway. The American writer, Ambrose Pierce once wrote that a saint is nothing more than a sinner revised and edited.